When you’re dieting, the natural thing to do is to reach for a diet soda, but this may actually prevent you from losing weight, because it confuses the body’s natural ability to count calories based on sweetness.

Since the body doesn’t register artificial sweeteners the same way it does sugar or fructose (the sugar in fruit), it doesn’t realize that food has been ingested and it still feels hunger. Since many diet foods do have calories, despite having no sugar, they can cause you to crave more food than you normally would because you never feel full. And while diet sodas have no calories, drinking lots of them may disrupt the body?s ability to regulate the intake of other food.

Purdue University researchers Terry Davidson and Susan Swithers have found that being able to match your caloric intake with your caloric needs depends on the body’s ability to respond to the taste and feel of food in your mouth. Your body knows that both sweet tastes and thick, heavy foods are high in calories. This learning process may begin in infancy while drinking breast milk, which is why feeding a baby formula instead could be one reason for adult obesity. Davidson says, “The body’s natural ability to regulate food intake and body weight may be weakened when this natural relationship is impaired by artificial sweeteners.”

Swithers says, “Our hypothesis is that experience with these foods interferes with the natural ability of the body to use sweet taste and viscosity to gauge caloric content of foods and beverages. When you substitute artificial sweetener for real sugar?the body learns it can no longer use its sense of taste to gauge calories. So, the body may be fooled into thinking a product sweetened with sugar has no calories and, therefore, people overeat.

“Historically, we knew that our body learns that if the food is thick, such as whole milk, it tends to have more calories than compared to a thinner liquid such as skim milk,” Swithers says. “Now, our research reinforces this and takes it one step further, showing that our bodies translate this information about perceived calories into a gauge to tell us when to stop eating?Increased consumption of artificial sweeteners and of high-calorie beverages is not the sole cause of obesity, but it may be a contributing factor.”

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